Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Eve Rambling

Haven't said much. Not much to say. Too much to say. Strange, sleepless delusions bouncing around my head, masquerading as "ideas". Or "opinions". Or even "wisdom". I don't even know how it is got here, wondering how I got here. Just a strange mirror in a mirror image, an endless hall of me, thoughts slowly shrinking away in the distance.

Is this where I am supposed to be? Was this my stop, or did I take the wrong train down the track of life? Should I have gotten off at the last stop, or is my destination further down the road? I don't know. I just don't know. But, I have so many voices telling me that I do. Bizarre little echoes of friendship, flitting about from here to there, commending me on this, or deriding me for that. So many snippets of out-of-context wisdom, like the fortunes in little yellow cookies.

Too much sleep. Not enough rest.

I miss the rain. It speaks to me like nothing, & no one else can. Pitter-patter little truths, washing away the falsehoods of the day. I miss cool drenching of my internal fire, temper tempered in so much little water. I close my eyes, & can almost feel it rolling down my faces. Drops burrowing in my beard, only to explode out with each furry chin scratch. I can breathe better in the rain, lungs filled with soothing mist. It's too late for rain. It's frozen in time, unable to speak to me. Mammoth corpse, mystery of before.

I can hear songs of forced joy. Not forced, expected. Sounds digging into your ears, trying to pull out buried memories. Excavating nostalgic emotion, for too many times long gone. They're too far in now, lost inside, echoing through my brain until all I hear is them. I prefer the lights, anyway.

I prefer the lights.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Echo Chamber

No one reads this. Not a soul. I could certainly keep putting things out there, but I do sort of question the point. Even my few friends don't read it. I have 6 total views among all my blog posts here.

So, what am I gonna do? I'll have to think on it. Cause, I could write in a journal at this point and have the same result.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

What I Hate About Superheroes


The following thoughts are my own. Generally speaking, I don't believe in right or wrong when it comes to someone's taste or creativity. I, in no way, mean to offend anyone with my opinion of the subject matter, or on anyone else's thoughts on the topic.

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the superhero genre. I have been reading comic books since my mother found a stack of beat-up "Doctor Strange" in an antique store. Even though I wasn't even 10 years old, and the comics were the 70s, I was hooked. From there it was grabbing whatever I could, wherever I could, whenever I could. The publisher didn't matter and the content didn't matter, as I was just so sucked into the entire idea of it all. And the obsession only grew worse as the years went by, with my teenage years being filled with numerous subscriptions coming in each month, superhero trading cards, and any game remotely related. It might have been my first literary love.

That love last a long time, persisting all the way to the present, but, like many long romances, part of my passion has faded. Over the decades, I became more aware of certain recurring issues (no pun intended) in the genre, and it grew ever more difficult to write them off or ignore them. I watched my collecting start to dwindle, as the expense priority shifted further and further downward. Eventually, I only picked up a few issues here and there, and though I thoroughly enjoyed them, I couldn't muster the same enthusiasm I once did. After thinking about it for days, or maybe weeks, I decided that I should vent on what my problems with the genre are, so here we go...

  1. Endless Story - I often refer to this as the "Soap Opera Effect", a little term I came up with which I personally felt pretty much summed up the whole issue. Most comic characters (not the individual books, which change names and numbering constantly) never really go away. What this amounts to is that ever character goes through everything, and is often linked to everyone. In a soap opera, nearly every character takes their turn at being a bad guy, only to inevitably be redeemed, and then sometimes repeating the cycle several times over. Romantic entanglements become just that, with everyone sleeping with everyone, or having some sort of forbidden love, or whatever nonsense they're selling that week. All of this comes back to not having a clear end point. Without a limited time to tell your story, you eventually come to the end, but still have to fill space. This is why so many comic book characters spend serious amounts of time as villains, because how many more heroic stories can you muster? How many times, and in how many different ways, can they save the world? You need endings. Even your favorite shows turn to absolute drivel if they go on for too long, for the exact same reasons.
  2. No Consequences - The comic book world is so renowned for killing off characters, only to bring them back, it has become the biggest joke of the entire genre. This unfortunate trend is also, arguably, the biggest issue many people, both hardcore fans and casual readers, have with the genre as a whole. If nothing really affects the people in the story, then why get invested in it at all? If the characters can die, only to be brought back next month, or even next year, was it really a death? Wasn't it more of just an extended time off-camera? Look at the biggest example of this in modern history, "The Death of Superman". That happened way back in 1992, and if you read any of the Superman books now, you'd never knew it had happened. It changed him not a single whit, and it didn't change the story. It didn't change anything around him. No one he knew was affected in any lasting way. If the biggest consequence of all is, in theory, death, then it's absence makes any story with it as the core threat, a lie.
  3. Nothing REALLY New - I know a lot of people would argue this one, and I would understand why. The comic book writers are constantly coming up with new villains, new heroes, and new stories. But, if you take a serious look, a great many of them are incredibly fleeting. Don't get me wrong, I understand why. We are talking about businesses after all, and keeping the spotlight on the characters the fans know and love is just smart money. But it also creates an atmosphere where new things pop up, usually just alongside the more popular ideas, then quickly fade away. The excuse is almost always "it didn't sell" or that "the fans didn't like it", but too many times the energy to promote these new things isn't even really there. They try to create hype for a few issues, then they just go back to focusing on the same old thing, the same old characters, the same types of stories. Then, when people (like me) get tired of the reruns, we phase out from the genre, which then provokes the next problem I have.
  4. Excessive Social Pandering - In an effort to make themselves more relevant, comic publishers often overreact to current social issues, making sudden and sweeping changes to characters and story lines. And please, before you immediately judge me as some sort of privileged white male complaining about progressive inclusion, read on. I AM FOR DIVERSITY! The only time I have an issue with someone is based on their behavior. I don't care about their gender identity, ethnicity, political affiliation, or anything else. Behavior. How you treat me, and the people around you. Ok? That said, when you go out of your way to change an established character, turning them into something else just so you can point to how inclusive you are, you belittle the whole point. Don't make a young African-American girl the new Iron Man (yes, I get that she got named Iron Heart, but she was definitely billed as the new Iron Man), and rather just make a new, interesting character. Don't even compare Riri Williams to Tony Stark, because then, in so doing, you are already making her live in a white man's shadow. Don't go off about how progressive you are, turning Falcon into Captain America. Just give Falcon the shield, and let him be his own guy. Or, better yet, make a new super soldier. How about a Native American as the new Captain America? That would have been awesome, even though they would still be living under the banner of the old iteration. Don't even get me started on Jane Foster as "Thor", since that will be it's own post sometime in the future.
I don't claim to have the answers about how to "fix" the superhero genre. Obviously, simply reversing my above complaints could be a good start, but I'm not so sure that would even be a lasting fix. We, as comic fans, need to learn to let old characters go, and embrace new ideas. Many of these characters are older than we are, yet locked in time. The subject matter of them may have changed, but has the concept behind them? Are the changes we make for the better, or simply so we can say that the change occurred in the first place? I don't really know, but I'm not willing to give up on comics yet. I just have some issues.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Best Villain

This isn't a post about who I think the best specific villain is, nor is it a list of of them, top ten or otherwise. This is more about what makes a particular villain interesting, and what qualities I think the bad guy needs to have in order to be truly engaging. As always, this is simply my opinion.

First off, a great villain is sympathetic, and makes you question if they are even the bad guy in the first place. One of my favorite quotes in the entirety of ever is "Every villain is the hero of their own story", and I think that is so incredibly important for people to consider when creating these characters. A good villain isn't just embarking on a crusade of evil for it's own sake, and is instead acting out of their own genuine belief that what they are doing is right. That there simply isn't any other way, and if they have to be the person to cross the line towards the goal they believe in, then they'll have to be the one shoulder that burden. These are characters like Magneto (above) who is almost constantly motivated by a love for his people, and the overwhelming desire to protect them from a world that fears and oppresses them. Or even Lex Luthor (in later versions), who truly believes that Superman, and people like him, represent a threat to the common man, often able to produce real evidence to back up his viewpoint. Both of these examples can make you question whether or not they are really that bad, which leads the reader/audience to have to really look at their actions to decide for themselves if the ends ultimately justify the means.

Next, and I already touched on this, is that a good bad guy has a goal that they are working towards, rather than just engaging in wanton evil. Now I generally find all the villains who are simply muscle-for-hire a little bit boring, at least you can look at them and sort of get it. If you had the ability to use your abilities, which set you apart from everyone else, to make some serious cash, wouldn't you as well? It makes sense, even if you might not take that path, you can at least understand how a rational person might pursue that. People like Deathstroke, or his parody Deadpool, chase after money and that goal becomes an understandable motivation for them. Even the most blatantly, unfiltered evil characters can have goals explaining why they do what they do. Thanos, as a prime example, is in love with the personification of death, and wants nothing more to please her. He's just trying to build one giant murder bouquet for the girl he likes, which again, we can kind of get. It's once you get into characters like the Joker or Doomsday, who basically just engage in different forms of destruction just for kicks, that I begin to have a problem. To an extent, those types of characters, devoid of any real understandable motivation, become more of an environmental hazard than a real individual. You start to treat them like a hurricane or a flood, because they simply happen, at random, just cause. You deal with them and move on. Someone acting towards their objective makes them somehow more real, and worthy of greater emotional investment.

Last, and most superficially, a good villain has got to be cool. In most instances this amounts to the look, but the attitude can be just as important, if not more so. You look at the early days of comic books, and you can see a whole range of truly ridiculous villains who were were supposed to consider real threats.  With names that almost always seem to end in "-man", these are the truly absurd types that make laugh and roll our eyes before ever considering them a real threat.
                                                      (Seriously? SERIOUSLY?!!)

But when we see someone who looks the part, or has that confident swagger, suddenly we know that this is a real thing, and that this person means business. And it doesn't matter the medium, whether you're looking at Darth Vader and his scary armor and James Earl Jones voice, or Walking Dead's Negan, with his leathers and wire-wrapped baseball bat (lovingly referred to as "Lucille"). In the end, both of those character look intimidating, and have the force of personality to back it up. Even characters who might not, at first glance, seem particularly threatening (looking at you, Joker), can be elevated to a serious perceived threat just by adding a of confidence. And confidence is the foundation of cool.

As with everything else, exceptions to the above can be found, and real knowledgeable fans could quickly point out a whole bunch of decent villains who probably are lacking in one, or several, of the areas I have mentioned above, and that's fine. I don't claim that a decent villain has to possess all of the above. I just believe that if the character touches on all three areas I'v mentioned, they're probably going to be substantially more interesting than those who do not. At least to me.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Explaining the Love

I have been a pen and paper gamer for over 30 years. I have spent far too much money on the hobby, and dedicated countless hours to it. I have dedicated huge amounts of my memory (though not as much as some) to recollecting the rules, names, and settings of so many different games. I have lost sleep over them, gained and lost friends over them, and felt levels of accomplishment typical reserved for serious life events.

But, why? What is it that draws me in, and keep me there? How has it held my attention for so long?

I think, ultimately, it comes down to a number of things. The first, in my case, was being socially withdrawn. I was an only child, a fairly rare occurrence when I was growing, and I didn't have built-in friendships or animosities like many people did. I had no idols or nemesis. The circumstance of my upbringing meant that I often didn't have the chance, or even seize upon it when I did, to make friends. All of this meant that, a structured world of imagination, filled with random people, cultures, monsters, and adventure, appealed to me rather heavily. I could open a book, pick what I wanted to be in that moment, and go along with it. This wasn't the passive ride along of a good book, which you sit down for and see where it whisks you away to. This was a guideline to go somewhere else, albeit only in my imagination, and immerse myself in a world not my own.

 I took a lot of flak for this. My father, who I never felt deserved to be diminished by the prefix "step", sought only to give a lonely child a world of wonder to entertain his mind. He would pride himself on how much I wanted to read the books that certainly weren't written for children, and how much creativity the whole experience drew out of me. But most people, from class mates and their parents, to the faculty of the schools I attended, all thought I was somehow wrong. That, at best, I was just some sort of freak playing pretend in the basement, associating with other maladjusted youth. At worst, they though I was deeply disturbed, one bad day away from slaughtering people with a bladed weapon while screaming Satanic spells at my victims. I wasn't allowed to hang out with friends I made, and was, on several occasions, brought into the school office and threatened with disciplinary action, simply for having my game books at school.

What they didn't realize is that their ostracism only made me stronger as a person, letting me realize how quickly one could be singled out if they didn't fit into what was expected. I learned that I didn't need to be like everyone else, and that many of the insults that they threw at me were just another attempt to help themselves cope with what they didn't, or couldn't, understand. And perhaps, most importantly, it gave me friendships that were largely immune to these external forces. The people that I brought into my social circle had similar interests, and had suffered many of prejudices against the hobby that I had. They frequently game from the same place, socially, or they at least could understand what it was like to exist outside the commonly accepted paradigm.  We bonded in our isolation, took comfort in our exclusion, and challenged each other to become more and more creative in the worlds we shared. Many of these relationships lasted far longer than those of my peers, sometimes to a shocking degree, and it was only through the realities of aging, or internal social strife, that I ever lost any of them. I cherish all those friendships, even the ones that have faded.

This hobby, perhaps more of a way of life if I am honest, kept me happy. Kept me occupied. I always had some idea, forming in my head, and it taught me how to share those ideas with others. While many of those in my gaming peer group never quite branched out from their small exclusive cliques, I managed to take what I learned and apply it elsewhere. People I met might not even know how I spent my free time, but they knew that I was filled with ideas, and an urge to express them as articulately as I could. That I had passion about unseen concepts, which I carried with me in much of what I did. I like to think that years of exploring the darkest dungeons, and facing the evil warlords, helped me to deal with unknown social situations, and face the peer pressure we all inevitably experience. All that time, being all those different heroes, and occasionally villains, helped me process all the wide varieties of personalities the world had to offer. I don't think I'd have managed to the degree I have without those fantasy adventures.

I could say more, and I suppose that proves the point of all of this. When you love something, truly love it, I don't think you ever run out of things to say, or the desire to repeat it. It stays with you, it occupies your mind, whatever small part of it, wherever you go. It's the reason I even made this post. Cause, even through my current personal strife, where my father and I have fallen to incredibly strained relationships, I think about the gift he gave to me. The infinite worlds, possibilities, and strengths.  Even when the man who introduced all this to me cast me out, my mind goes back to this.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

WTF: Part 2

I work at night, when everyone is asleep. Some nights are busy. Some aren't. Either way, people are usually asleep, leaving me no one to talk to. I need someone to talk to tonight. Since I don't have that, another poem.

I'm all alone
trying to be tough.
Be the man
that he wants
me to be.
But I'm not that man.
I'm not that tough.
Just a broken heart.
Tears streaming down.
by the only dad I've known.
Angry words shouted
over a child's pain.
Losing the point.
Losing our minds.
Two angry men
shouting like animals
trying to be dominant.
I was trying to end
all the judgement.
He was trying
to escape his age.
My apology came too late.
Angry wounds festered
turning to hate.
"He's not my blood"
Echoes in my ears.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

My Love of Sci-Fi

No disclaimer today, since I'm not bad mouthing everyone's favorite superheroes. No, today is for something a little different. Today, I talk about why I love sci-fi, and why, despite my humble beginnings of old school D&D and Tolkein, I enjoy it so much more than fantasy. Not that I dislike fantasy, otherwise there would have been a disclaimer. Don't look for an issue where there is none.

(It occurs to me the above is sort of a disclaimer, disclaimer.)

I think, ultimately, what I love most about science fiction is the guess work. The thought of what could possibly happen, following certain logical developments in technology, society, economics, or whatever. In the end, most good science fiction, in my opinion, takes an idea and plays it out over a theoretical span of time. What might the Earth look like in twenty years? In a hundred? What might this technology become in that same amount of time? How might that effect us? Where will our society be, in this imagined future? I love all of those questions, but then again I am fascinated by what might come, despite being stuck on the past.

Something else I entirely dig is the ability to mix science fiction with nearly every other genre, without it coming across as particularly forced or awkward. You want to do something post-apocalyptic? Well, by definition, that's pretty much science fiction, as it usually takes place in the future, following a technological disaster. Want to mix in some western? No problem! Just look at Firefly or Westworld. You want some sort of political drama? How's Expanse, Babylon 5, or Deep Space 9 grab you? Hell, if you even want to mix in some straight up magic, look no further than Star Wars or anything in the Shadowrun universe? There is something about that Arthur C Clarke saying where "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" that seems to make anything possible within the genre. And yes, while I know you can create a fantasy world where all of your standard tropes are told through the lens of technology, I feel that is the exact moment that it stops being fantasy.

Finally, and this again is just me, I love the visuals of science fiction so much. Especially when it goes so far as to be effectively magic. I love looking at starship designs, whether near future hyper-realistic, or Star Trek level nonsense. I love jump gates, and terraforming engines, and clone vats. All of these things can easily be translated into fantasy, and have been, but there is just something about the designs that accompany the technological versions. Maybe it's the attempt to at least try to explain things with currently understood science. Maybe it's the materials being smoother, or maybe more familiar. Maybe it has something to with many of the ideas being progressions of what we have today, where the artist tries to imagine what form something might take in however much time. I really couldn't tell you for certain. All I know is that I simply love, in a nearly giddy way, how science fiction looks most of the time.

I'm not really trying to convert anyone to my way of thinking here, or somehow justify what it is that makes me love science fiction more. I'm certainly not trying to say that one genre is better than another, and that anyone who doesn't see things the way I do is wrong. What I am doing, rather poorly if I'm honest, is trying to convey why it is that I love sci-fi so damned much. Maybe I can't though. Maybe if you love something, it defies any rational attempt at explanation. Yeah, let's go with that.